Each year, an estimated 92 million tons of textile waste is generated. Shining a light on this issue is artist Derick Melander, whose enormous sculpture fashioned out of old clothing will be unveiled this month in Hong Kong.
In an enormous warehouse in Hong Kong’s Taikoo district, a remarkable sculpture is taking shape. Derick Melander’s ‘You Are My Other Me,’ a 2m tall installation made of meticulously folded clothes will soon be installed in Starstreet Precinct, Wan Chai as part of a Swire Properties exhibition in partnership with Art Basel. Composed of over 700 tons of recycled garments stacked on top of each other, it fades from pale yellows through blues and cobalt in the hues of a beautiful Van Gogh sunset scene. Created in collaboration with local environmental charity Redress, it also tells an urgent story. Equal parts artwork and argument for change, Derick talked Hive Life through why, for him, the most powerful medium to work in is waste.
Derick’s installations crafted from textiles have been exhibited everywhere from the US to France to Norway. “Clothing is emotional, it is a material that has a lot of power, that has a lot of resonance,” says the artist. He came across the idea of creating artworks with second-hand clothing whilst preparing for an exhibition back in 2002. “I was fighting the conventional display of artwork on a white plinth, trying to make a column out of second-hand clothing and put my art piece atop it,” he laughs. And, as he sorted through a bag of donated garments, he made a surprising discovery. “Right away, I could smell family in the clothing. I pulled out a blouse which had a hand-sewn repair in the collar, and immediately, I got a sense of her life. At the bottom of the bag were baby clothes, I could smell the sweetness of the newborn from them.”
For most of us, these old clothes might not worth much, but for Derick Melander, they embody an intimate record. “Every garment provides a clue about its previous owner,” he explains. “As garments are stacked and accumulated, all these individuals are symbolically joined, retaining their individuality while becoming a single thing. It’s like a collective portrait.” And it’s these traces of people that Derick centres his installations around. “I hope that when people see the works, they’re reminded of a different time in their life – of a friend, of a loved one, and they start to feel empathy with that work.”
Beyond their artistic value, Derick’s monuments made of clothes tell a stark environmental story. “My family owned and operated a small styrofoam company from the 1950s to 1990s, so perhaps I am subconsciously trying to reverse our karma,” he says. According to the Global Fashion Agenda, an estimated 92 million tonnes of textile waste is created annually, a number estimated to increase by about 60% between 2015 and 2030 – something Derick has seen firsthand in his decade working with textile waste. It was with this in mind that this particular work has been conceived. Partly inspired by the Starstreet Precinct neighbourhood – Sun Street, Moon Street, and Star Street – the colourful sculpture paints a reminiscence of the sea and the night sky with clothes sourced from a clothing drive organised in collaboration with Redress. Just as the name suggests, ‘You Are My Other Me,’ which means ‘to treat others as we expect to be treated ourselves’ in an ancient Mayan proverb, the sculpture urges the local community to take action.
“I would love it if my artwork had an impact in terms of reducing textile waste reducing consumption, increasing recycling,” says the sculptor. “Art has a language all its own. It can inspire and touch people in ways that facts and figures can not.” Given the crisis the world is facing, one hopes that endeavours like this can harness those emotions and use them to force change.
Date: 18 March to 28 April 2019
Address: Wooden Deck, Wing Fung St, Wan Chai